National Catholic Reporter

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Peace & Justice

March for life brings to mind new beginnings

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It is 5:45 in the morning and I don't even think the roosters are up. I began the day with reading scripture, meditation and prayer. That was about a half hour ago. We are at the start of a new year. It is an ideal time to reflect on our walk as Christians. I've often used the time leading up to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., as a day of preparation for the upcoming season of Lent.

We can use the time to examine our consciences, as well as to confess and repent of our sins, all of which is good preparation for the season of Lent, a time of self-sacrifice. This time around the March of Life is a also a time when the poor and less fortunate should be close to our hearts. Are not the poor, the disabled, and the elderly alike the "treasures of the church" for which St. Lawrence died? They are indeed!

Gun control: Church firmly, quietly opposes firearms for civilians

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VATICAN CITY -- The Catholic Church's position on gun control is not easy to find; there are dozens of speeches and talks and a few documents that call for much tighter regulation of the global arms trade, but what about private gun ownership?

The answer is resoundingly clear: Firearms in the hands of civilians should be strictly limited and eventually completely eliminated.

U.S. executions down by 50 percent in decade

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The nation experienced a 12 percent decrease in executions in 2010 compared to 2009 and a more than 50 percent drop compared to 1999, according to a report released today by the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center.

Texas, meanwhile, had 29 percent fewer executions in 2010 than the previous year.

The center projects the number of new death sentences will be 111 for 2010, remaining near last year’s number of 112, which was the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Death sentences declined in all four regions of the country over the past ten years, with a 50 percent decrease nationwide when the current decade is compared to the 1990s.

“Whether it’s concerns about the high costs of the death penalty at a time when budgets are being slashed, the risks of executing the innocent, unfairness, or other reasons, the nation continued to move away from the death penalty in 2010,” said Richard Dieter, the center’s Executive Director and the report’s author.

Caught in the crossfire

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You’ve seen the headlines. You would need to have your head stuck deep in sand to have missed the story: migrants streaming across the border, coyotes, drug cartels, the Border Patrol and Minutemen. People dying in the desert and a raging national debate over immigration policy. And, lest we forget, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (recently re-elected) and an anti-immigration law that makes it a crime not to carry immigration documents.

Guatemalan families reunite in Iowa

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POSTVILLE, IOWA -- The sign on the bus traveling from the Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Postville on slippery roads Dec. 4 said “SPECIAL.” That was an understatement.

When the bus pulled up in front of St. Bridget Church in Postville at 8:45 a.m., it delivered the best Christmas gift anyone could wish for -- 26 family members from Guatemala coming to be reunited with eight former Agriprocessors workers whom they had not seen in years.

Many of the travelers were children whose mothers left Guatemala several years ago to earn money in Postville to send back to their hungry families. Some were parents or siblings of former underage teen workers.

“It was a very emotional moment,” said Mary McCauley, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was among those who met the bus. “Seeing their faces as they recognized loved ones was indescribable!”

McCauley was pastoral administrator at the Postville parish at the time of the largest immigration raid in U.S. history at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant on May 12, 2008 (NCR, June 13, 2008).

Jury finds activists guilty in Washington state nuclear weapons protest

WASHINGTON -- Five longtime peace activists were found guilty of a series of federal charges stemming from an All Souls' Day demonstration in 2009 at a U.S. Navy nuclear weapons depot in Bangor, Wash.

A 12-member jury convicted Jesuit Fr. Bill Bichsel, 82, Jesuit Fr. Stephen Kelly, 61, Sacred Heart Sr. Anne Montgomery, 83, Susan Crane, 65, and Lynne Greenwald, 61, of conspiracy, trespass, destruction of property on a naval installation and depradation of government property Dec. 13.

The verdict for the defendants, who called themselves the Disarm Now Plowshares, came after a four-day trial in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma, Wash.

Settle set sentencing for March 28. Each activist faces prison terms of three to five years and fines of $50,000 to $250,000 on each charge.

Crane, a member of the Jonah House Community in Baltimore, told Catholic News Service by phone shortly after the verdict was announced that the group faced an uphill battle in establishing their defense after Settle determined that no witness would be able to discuss whether nuclear weapons existed at the base.

The check is definitely not in the mail

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COLUMN

Dear Archbishop Timothy Broglio:

I’m not sure who supplied my name and address to you, but I did receive your letter asking for money for the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services, which you head.

“Yes,” you wrote, “faithful, patriotic and generous Catholics like you help make it possible for chaplain priests to be there for our troops serving in harm’s way. ... Donors like you are the sole means of financial support for the archdiocese.”

I certainly understand that times are tough for Catholic chaplains. As you say, only 275 are currently on duty, down from 400 since the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Catholics are 25 percent of the military, while only 8 percent of military chaplains are priests.

Quiet cancer of militarism on the US soul

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Jesuit Fr. Dan Berrigan’s message to peacemakers, delivered Nov. 29 at Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House on Staten Island, N.Y., came down to this: Persevere.

“You have no right to tie yourself in knots because you want to know the outcome of what you are doing. Don’t, no, no. Let it go. Let it go into history. Let it go into Christ. Let it go into generations. Let it go into the children. Play it and pray it well,” NCR staff writer Joshua McElwee reported Berrigan saying. (You can see McElwee's story on Berrigan's talk here: Berrigan's message to peacemakers: Persevere.)

Yes, it can be discouraging, and the thought of giving up can be inviting. So it becomes important to ponder the words of a man who has taken the often lonely peace route for some six decades.

Some years back, Berrigan said: “I protest because I cannot not protest.” In his eyes, not to protest, not to stand up against violence and militarism, meant relinquishing part of his humanity, an essential part of what it means to be a Christian.

Arms negotiator: Time to ratify START

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate has already held extensive hearings this year on the country’s New START – Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – with Russia and the time is ripe to ratify it, the treaty’s lead U.S. negotiator told a nationwide group of Catholic social action leaders Nov. 30.

Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, who led the U.S. negotiating team in reaching the new agreement, spoke with about 70 Catholic leaders in a teleconference organized by Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby.

She warned that if the treaty is not ratified before the end of the current Congress, an entire new set of hearings will have to take place next year, possibly delaying a ratification vote by as much as a full year.

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